Of the countless films director Kenji Mizoguchi made over his career, The Life of Oharu is said to be among his favourites, and Criterion’s welcome home release of his 1952 masterpiece is proof of both its aesthetic quality and narrative power. The eponymous Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) is a young noblewoman in seventeenth-century Japan who falls for the affections of Katsunosuke (Toshirō Mifune), whose low rank bars them from marrying. They elope, but their Shakespearean romance is cut short when the lovers are caught on the run.
Katsunosuke is executed while Oharu and her parents are exiled, thus beginning a life of misfortune, exploitation and cruelty, starting with Oharu’s parents gleefully selling her off to the territory’s lord to bear his heir. Once she has performed her duty, Oharu is summarily dismissed from her post much to the chagrin of her father who is deep in debt. Oharu subsequently finds herself as a consort, servant, and street prostitute as she tries to make her way in the world while everyone around her abuses and exploits her vulnerability.
Christoper Machell | @Dr_Machell